Meeting the Press

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The American team meets the press. Left to right: C. C. Johnson, G. S. Lunney, R. R. Gilruth, D. C. Cheatham, D. C. Wade, and R. A. Berglund.

[146] Later, on Monday, 28 June, six Americans who had worked with the Soviets held a news conference in Houston. Until that time, there had been some speculation in the press concerning the nature and tenor of the joint deliberations. In fact, during the negotiations, the Soviet side had asked that the discussions as a general rule be kept confidential. Gilruth and Frutkin flatly declined to agree to such an embargo of information, and Frutkin stated that NASA could not and would not proceed with the talks on that basis. Only in the area of agreements pending official ratification, such as the June Summary, of Results, did the agency reserve the right to remain silent. Once signed, however, those documents would become part of the public record.50

Characterizing the preceding week's activities as friendly, Gilruth commented to the press:

It was a period of intense hard work covering very difficult technical areas. As you all know, rendezvous and docking is not simple for one country or one organization to conduct, and so I think everyone could imagine some of the complexity of trying to work out the arrangements between two different countries, particularly countries that speak such different languages.51
When Nick Chriss of the Los Angeles Times asked about the language barrier, Gilruth said that he would not be leveling if he did not admit that it was a formidable one. None of the American technical people spoke Russian and therefore had to rely upon interpreters. While they had been able to work around the language problem, it had been fortunate that several of the Soviets could speak and write English. Gilruth noted that there would be a need for additional simultaneous interpreters in the future, but English-Russian interpreters were not the most plentiful people in the world.

While careful not to give the impression that a joint mission was a sure thing, Gilruth answered a question raised by Paul Reiser of the Associated Press about timing. He said, "the mid-70s would be a reasonable time frame to think about. Certainly I don't believe it would be any sooner than that, and of course even that is contingent on the rate of progress we are able to make." Gilruth was quick to add that there had been no decision to conduct [147] a joint flight, only discussions on the merits of such an experimental mission. The desirability of an actual flight would be a topic for continued discussion.

To inquiries about the candidness of the discussions, the Americans reported that there was indeed a high degree of openness. Don Wade, chairman of Working Group 3, said that their candor had surprised him, but he added that this was relative to the pre-agreed list of discussion items, which they "stuck pretty close to." In those areas "they were very, very open with us," he said. Both publicly and privately, Wade's colleagues agreed with his appraisal.52

One of the recurring questions raised by the newspeople centered on the "give away" issue giving away to the Russians hardware or technical know-how. Jim Maloney of the Houston Post asked about this first in the context of rendezvous and docking. He suggested that NASA was going to "donate" knowledge in this area, since the U.S. had much more experience than the Soviets. Peter Mosely of the Reuters news service asked if Gilruth would characterize the efforts so far as an exchange of technology. Gilruth answered that NASA may have had more rendezvous and docking experience but that the Soviets had had their share as well and clearly understood the flight mechanics involved. In response to the question of transferring technological knowledge, the MSC Director pointed out that the present talks were simply exchanges of views on how two nations might fly together. He did not anticipate any major changes in either nation's spacecraft as a result of the compatibility meetings. All that was really required, he said, was an agreement on the docking interface - the docking gear, and the like - and assurance that the interface requirements are adequate.

There were also questions about the wider implications of the negotiations. Jay C. Russell of KTRH radio of Houston asked Gilruth, aside from being able to sit down and work at making equipment that would fly together, "what does all this mean to the world?" Gilruth responded:

Well, I think you'd have to decide that for yourselves. None of us here are politicians or politically inclined people. I think we all are impressed with the fact however, that we have been able to meet with the delegation from the Soviet Union in an area of great technical difficulty, work together, and with a friendly atmosphere come to a number of important general agreements and I think that it's always good when people can meet and work together in harmony.53

50. Interview, Frutkin-Ezell, 5 May 1975; and Frutkin to Ezell, memo, 12 Feb. 1976.

51. NASA Press Conference, MSC, "Summary of U.S. & U.S.S.R. Joint Docking Space Systems Discussions," 28 June 1971.

52. Ibid.; note, George B. Hardy to Berglund, 30 June 1971; and Waite to Gilruth, memo, "USSR Delegation Visit," 30 June 1971.

53. NASA Press Conference, MSC, "Summary of U.S. & U.S.S.R. Joint Docking Space Systems Discussions," 28 June 1971; Jim Maloney, "Joint Space Effort Forecast for 70s," Houston Post, 29 June 1971; Bruce Hicks, "Soviet Talks on Linkups in Space Landed," Houston Chronicle, 29 June 1971; and Robert C. Cowen, "NASA Finds Soviets Sincere in Space-docking Talks," Christian Science Monitor, 29 June 1971.

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